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Paraguayská kampaň [1810-1811]

Paraguay campaign

Paraguajská kampaň

Expedición de Belgrano al Paraguay

The Paraguay Campaign, or Belgrano's Expedition to Paraguay, was part of an effort by the government of the United Provinces of South America to gain control of the entire territory of the Spanish Viceroyalty of the Río de La Plata. The expedition was directed against the territory of the Intendancy of Asunción del Paraguay, also known as the Province of Paraguay.

After the May Uprising in Buenos Aires, representatives of the United Provinces of South America sent emissaries to the various administrative units of the Viceroyalty of the Río de La Plata, with the aim of bringing these provinces under their control. Colonel José de Espinola was sent to Asunción, but his mission ended in failure. The royal governor Bernardo de Velasco organized a meeting of the local government (Cabildo) on July 24, 1810, in which over 200 local figures refused to submit to the government in Buenos Aires and affirmed their loyalty to the Spanish king Ferdinand VII. But it also expressed the hope that good relations with Buenos Aires could be maintained despite the above.

The government in Buenos Aires, even before learning of the rejection of their offer, had already begun an economic blogade of the province - as early as 03.08.1810 and 11.08.1810 it ordered the detention of goods, ships, people and correspondence to and from Paraguay in the ports of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, La Bajada and Corrientes. Further decrees were passed in quick succession - on 13.08.1810, Governor Tomás de Rocamora was given the task of securing the blockade of the Uruguay River, thus cutting off communication between Montevideo and Asunción. Finally, on August 19, 1810, the General Directorate of Tobacco in Buenos Aires was forbidden to accept bills of exchange from Paraguay.

In addition to the economic blogade, several agents were sent to the province to convince possible opponents of Governor de Velasco of the advantages of submission to the [url=/topic/view/261822]government in Buenos Aires. The first of several missions was that of Captain Juan Francisco Arias of Salta. He was to explain to various potential opposition figures in Paraguay the aims of the Junta as being to preserve the rights of the Spanish king and to try to avoid the fate of the occupied territories of mother Spain. On September 14, 1810, Ariasa reached the city of Corrientes, from where he sent a letter to selected Paraguayan officials and officers explaining the aims of the Junta. Among the addressees were royal officers José Antonio Zavala y Delgadillo and Fulgencio Yegros. Both, coincidentally, had real encounters with how the government in Buenos Aires imagined the preservation of the "rights of the King of Spain", etc., since Zavala commanded the fleet that rescued Paraguayan ships detained under the sanccias of Corrientes, and Yegros, in turn, the forces that eliminated the forces enforcing the sanccias in the passes of the Paraná River. Both informed the provisional governor of Gracia of the letters, and Arias, who in the meantime had already reached the town of Pilar, had to leave the country quickly.

Ironically, both sides of the conflate declared their allegiance to Ferdinand VII, fighting under the banners of Spain and declaring before each battle that they were fighting in his name.

The military expedition against Paraguay began on 24 September 1810. Belgrano's force was made up of about 200 men, but the plan was to replenish the force during the move to the Paraná River. The first reinforcements were members of the Blandengues regiments from the garrisons of Santa Fé and San Nicolas, and volunteers from the settlements and towns visited also joined the expedition. Even with the additional reinforcements from Buenos Aires (200 men from the 1st "Patricios" Infantry Regiment under Captain Gregorio Perdriel sent on 16 October 1810), the expeditionary force gradually grew to almost 950 infantry and cavalrymen divided into 4 detachments, each with one cannon.

But in addition to the military expedition, the Junta also continued its diplomatic efforts. On September 27, 1810, it commissioned Juan Francisco Aguero (a Paraguayan lawyer working in Asunción and Buenos Aires) to present to Paraguayan officials the benefits of a union with Buenos Aires and the risks they might face if they refused the union. Belgrano also worked with Aguero during his expedition and sent letters to Colonel Gracia and Lieutenant-Colonel Cerdo in his wake. This mission also ended in failure, as Aguero was arrested immediately upon his arrival in Asunción.

At the end of October, the expedition reached the town of Curuzú Cuatiá and the river Paraná (near the island of Apipé) on 01.12.1810. The expedition continued around the river to the village of Candelaria. The expedition used this village as a base for its further advance to Paraguay, as it was necessary to cross the Paraná riverbed, which was about 1000 m wide, and the royalists had destroyed or removed all the boats that would have made it possible to cross the river. After preparing makeshift boats of skins and wooden rafts (each for 60 men, or one 4-pounder cannon), the crossing of the river began in the night hours of 18 December 1810. The first landing party of 12 men surprised the Royalist patrol at 23:00 and captured two men and several guns. The main force under Major General Machain crossed the river between 03:00 and 06:00 on 19.12.1810, landing at Campichuelo Hill, from which this battle takes its name, due to the river's current. The roughly 800 men with artillery support who began to cross the river were faced by 13 Royalist soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Domingo Soriano del Monje. However, the river crossing was not successful, the attacking forces landed at various points and some of them were simply lost in the dense vegetation on the river bank. Major General Machain ordered to consolidate the forces before continuing the advance, but his decision was ignored by a trio of officers - Manuel Artigas, Jerónimo Helguera and Ramón Espínola - who, with seven soldiers (a figure taken from Belgrano's Memoirs of 1814, the account of the event written on the spot gives the number as 27), attacked the royalist position directly. After a brief skirmish with no casualties on either side, the royalists withdrew and retreated to Itapúa, where the main royalist force (whose numbers vary according to sources from 40 to 500 men) was under the command of Captain Pablo Thompson. Belgrano's troops entered Itapúa at 6pm on 20 December 1810 (the vanguard had already arrived shortly after midnight); the royalists under Thompson had left the town the day before. The expeditionary force did not stay long in Itapúa, and as early as 25.12.1810 they started another march towards Asunción.The original plans to replenish the force with volunteers did not materialize, as the governor de Velasco ordered the whole area evacuated.

The next battle between Belgrano and the Royalists occurred on 19 January 1811 at Paraguarí. The Royalist forces were commanded personally by Governor Bernardo de Velasco. He had about 1,000 soldiers and about 3,500 volunteers with minimal training and poor weaponry. Belgrano, on the other hand, had only about 1,000 soldiers and volunteers, but he managed to surprise the royalist infantry with his first attack and they began to retreat. Some of Belgrano's forces began to loot the royalist camp, which the royalists used to reorganize the retreating infantry and halt Belgrano's advance. Additionally, the Royalist cavalry under Manuel Cabanas, which had not yet intervened in the battle, deployed on the flanks of the attacking troops and attacked Belgrano's cavalry under Major General Machain and Major General Perdriel (each had approximately 100 cavalrymen). In an attempt to protect his flank, Belgrano sent his aide Raon Espindola with 120 soldiers to support Major General Machain, but the latter considered Espindola's forces royalists and ordered a retreat in front of them. During this confusion, the royalists under Gamarra and Cabanas managed to encircle Espindola and Machain's forces. Major General Machaine saved himself by escaping, but Espindola was killed in the fighting. Under pressure from his officers who were concerned about the possibility of encircling even the main force, Belgrano ordered a retreat to the south. In the battle, 30 Royalists were killed (about 70 were taken out of the fight along with the wounded) and 16 were captured; on the side of the attackers, 10-14 soldiers were killed and another 120-126 were captured. In addition to the loss of manpower (about 20% of the force), the expeditionary force also lost a considerable number of weapons - 2 guns, 150 rifles and ammunition, which were immediately used to rearm the poorly armed Royalist volunteers.

With no way to replenish their losses, and with the threat of declining morale and continued desertions, Belgrano's forces began to retreat to the Tacuari River (about 20% of the pesonal deserted during the retreat). At the same time, he began to urge the replenishment of forces and resources, even at the cost of being withdrawn from other battlefields (e.g., Lieutenant Colonel Martin Galain's 200 men, destined for reinforcement operations in Banda Oriental (present-day Uruguay)). The government of Busenos Aires allocated 700 soldiers from Santa Fe to support him and ordered the governor in Corrientes, Elias Galán, to send 200 men to Candelaria. Another 600 men under José de Mouldes were to leave Buenos Aires in early March 1811. In addition, a small fleet of three ships was sent to take control of the Paraná River and support Belgrano's forces. However, these ships never fulfilled their mission, as they were destroyed by a fleet from Montevideo under Jacinto de Romarate off San Nicolás de los Arroyos on 02.03.1811. On the contrary, the royalist ships operating on the Paraná River made it difficult to transport supplies for the expeditionary force.

Governor de Velasco's aim was to push the expeditionary force beyond the Paraná River, which would form a natural border between the United Provinces and the part of the Río de La Plata controlled by him, thus creating a corridor to the royalist forces in Montevideo and to the Portuguese forces in Brazil. In order to reduce costs as much as possible, he did not engage in direct fighting, but watched the retreating expeditionary force from a distance and sent small groups to their flanks and rear to make it more difficult to supply them.

By early March 1811 it was clear to the royalists that the retreat of Belgrano's forces had stopped at the pass of the Tacuarí River (now the town of Carmen del Paraná), where they had built defences and were awaiting reinforcements. For this reason, they began to prepare for offensive action. Lieutenant Colonel Cabañas, who commanded the royalists, knew the perimeter and knew that a frontal assault was impossible in the situation. For this reason he decided on a bypass, for which the royalists on 06.03.1811 began to build a bridge about 10 km from Belgrano's position, which would make the bypass possible.
About an hour before midnight on 08.03.1811, the main Royalist force under Juan Manuel Gamarra, numbering about 1,000 men, began to move across the bridge to positions on the right flank of Belgrano's camp. At dawn on 09.03.1811 these forces reached the village of Tupá-ra'ý. Gamarr also dispatched scouts to the road leading from Belgrano's camp to Itapúi to report the possible arrival of reinforcements.
An hour before dawn, a diversionary attack was launched on the positions of the expeditionary force in the pass. Their positions were shelled by cannon and rifle fire by cavalry under the command of Juan Antonio Caballero. The infantry, made up of three companies of lancers under the command of Lieutenant Pedro Pablo Miers, imitated the infantry's approach to the prepared attack. From the south, the "navy" (a total of 4 boats and canoes) under the command of Ignacio Aguirre joined the attacks. Although one of the boats possessed a small gun, these forces were quickly repulsed by Captain Celestino Vidal's detachment.
Despite their harmlessness, both actions kept Belgrano's officers reliably busy, so that they only belatedly realised the threat that had meanwhile formed on their right flank. Against the already advanced Royalist forces in Tupá-ra'ý, Belgrano dispatched Major-General Machain with a total of 120 men and a pair of 4-pounder guns. The latter took advantage of the terrain and dense vegetation and approached the royalist forces within range without being detected. However, the mutual firefight was ended by a lack of ammunition on the Royalist side (and also by the poor effectiveness of their fire, as the attacker was hiding in the dense forest), who decided to take advantage of their numerical superiority and attacked Machain's positions with cold weapons. The outcome of the battle was decided immediately after the Royalist cavalry managed to eliminate the enemy artillery. Most of Machain's men surrendered (except for a few who managed to escape, including a pair of officers originally from Paraguay - Bonifacio Ramos of the artillery and Ramón Cabrera). The royalists also reinforced themselves with two cannons, an ammunition wagon, and some 130 rifles.
This success allowed the royalist cavalry to seize the road to Itapúa and effectively encircle Belgrano's forces. A number of members of the expeditionary force (including officers) took advantage of the ensuing confusion to desert. According to Belgrano's later estimates, as many as 460 men may have deserted. However, Belgrano refused the offer of surrender and regrouped the remaining force (235 men and 2 4-pounder guns). His firepower did initially keep the Royalist forces at a safe distance, but the situation changed after the Royalist artillery managed to create a gap in the centre of the defensive positions and a subsequent cavalry charge forced Belgrano's cavalry to retreat. Consequently, the infantry on the right flank of the defence also failed to cope with the attacks of the Royalist cavalry and retreated behind the cavalry. The Royalist attack on Belgrano's positions ended at midday on 09.03.1811, roughly 14 hours after it had begun. The expeditionary force was defeated but not completely destroyed.
The remnants of Belgrano's forces took up positions on the hill "Cerrito de los Porteños" near El Paso. His forces now had only limited options for defense and were surrounded by the Royalists. In this situation, Belgrano ordered the documents burned and sent José Alberto Cálcena y Echeverría1) as parliamentarian with a proposal to surrender and leave Paraguay.

Belgrano did propose his surrender but he made it conditional on the possibility of allowing the surrendered forces to cross the Paraná River in 24 hours and thus leave Paraguayan territory. On the other hand, even the royalists did not have many options to continue the fight - soldiers and animals tired after the night crossing and several hours of fighting, lack of ammunition, part of the fighting men allocated to guard the prisoners. In this situation, after consulting with his officers, Cabañas decided to accept the surrender, but demanded the surrender of arms as compensation for the war expenses and an immediate withdrawal beyond the Paraná River.

After agreeing to the terms of surrender, the expeditionary force left the territory of Paraguay on March 10, 1811, and thus ended the entire campaign from Buenos Aires against the province. Cabañas' decision to allow the departure of the rest of the expeditionary force was in accordance with the instructions of Governor de Velasco, who subsequently confirmed it. But among the members of the provincial council (Cabildo) the surrender agreement had many critics, including the future ruler of independent Paraguay, José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia.


1)coincidentally, it was Manuel Atanasio Cabanas' uncle who commanded the royalists
Paraguayská kampaň [1810-1811] - Manuel Belgrano při paraguayském tažení

Manuel Belgrano při paraguayském tažení

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Paraguayská kampaň [1810-1811] - Vojenská výprava junty z Buenos Aires proti Paraguayi prosinec-březen 1811

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